Tag Archives: Continental Black-tailed Godwit

9th June 2017 – East Anglian Round-up, Day 3

Day 3 of a three day Private Tour today, our last day. We were planning to head down to the Brecks for the day. It was a nice day today, mostly cloudy but brighter later, lighter winds than of late, and we managed to dodge a couple of quick showers in the afternoon.

As we got down into the northern part of the Brecks, we started to see more pig fields. We stopped by one of them where we could see there was a large mob of gulls. The pig nuts had just been spread out in amongst one group of pigs and the gulls were squabbling in between them trying to help themselves. Then there was a loud ‘Bang!’ as a bird scarer went off and all the gulls took to the air.

When they landed again, down in a dip in the middle of the field, we scanned through the gulls we could see. We had hoped we might find a Caspian Gull, but they were mostly Lesser Black-backed Gulls here today, of various ages, plus a couple of Herring Gulls. We had thought we might come back and have another look here later, but our day ended up taking us off in a different direction.

Stone Curlew was our next target and we quickly found a pair in a field by the road. The vegetation is growing up now and they are getting harder to see, particularly when they sit down. It took a careful scan to find them, but we could just see two heads peeping out. We got them in the scope and could see their staring yellow irises. A nice start to the day.

Stone CurlewStone Curlew – one of a pair hiding in the field

When originally discussing possible targets for these three days, Wood Warbler was one species which came up. Unfortunately the bird which had been singing near Brandon last week had not been reported for several days, but we wondered whether this might be just because of the windy weather. We went for a quick look just in case, but all was quiet in the trees where it had been, so we didn’t linger here.

Our next stop was more successful. We parked by a ride in the forest and walked along the track until we got to a large clearing. We could hear Goldcrests and a Treecreeper calling in the pines as we passed. As we approached the clearing we could hear a Stonechat calling and we looked over and saw a smart male perched on the top of an old stump row. A female was perched nearby with food in her bill. They clearly had young in the nest nearby.

StonechatStonechat – the pair in the clearing appear to have young

We were looking for Tree Pipit here and it didn’t take too long to find one. It was perched in the top of an elder tree just along from the Stonechats. We got a good look at it through the scope, swaying about in the wind, before it flew off and up into the pines trees beyond.

Tree PipitTree Pipit – perched in an elder tree briefly

Continuing on round the clearing, we caught a snatch of song, quite sweet and melodic but more rolling than a Blackcap. It seemed an odd place for a Garden Warbler and the first bird we saw come out of the young pine trees was a Whitethroat which led to a brief bout of head scratching – could we have imagined it? Thankfully, a couple of seconds later the Garden Warbler flicked up into the top of some brambles in the stump row behind, a nice bonus to see here and not one we had expected.

Back to the car and we drove round to another part of the forest. There has been a Redstart singing here recently, but we couldn’t hear it today. Whether it was just busy feeding somewhere out of view or has failed to find a mate and moved on was not clear. A smart male Yellowhammer flew in calling and landed on the fence in front of us.

We had a walk round and flushed a Cuckoo from the grass. It landed on a fencepost briefly, before flying off along the fence line. A second Cuckoo appeared and flew out to a small bush nearby, where we got a great view of it in the scope. Then we heard what we assume was the first Cuckoo singing in the distance, so there were two males here. A little later the second Cuckoo flew over and attempted to chase off the first, before flying back to its favoured bush.

CuckooCuckoo – one of two males here today

Another Tree Pipit flew in and dropped down into the long grass. We walked over to try to get a better look at it, but it had managed to sneak away. As we scanned the spot where it had dropped in, the next thing we knew it took off again from further along and flew off towards the trees.

As we turned to walk back, we could hear a Woodlark calling. Suddenly a male Woodlark flew up from a short distance ahead of us and started to sing, fluttering up over our heads, before drifting away over the clearing. We took a few more steps and heard another Woodlark calling. It sounded to be a long way away, but they are masters at throwing their voice and looking at the grass just ahead of us, we spotted it perched on a tussock, presumably the female.

WoodlarkWoodlark – perched on a tussock close to the path

We stopped immediately and had a good look at it through binoculars, but when we tried to get the scope on it, the Woodlark took off and landed in the grass further back, out of view. We headed back to the car and drove on. Having seen Stone Curlew earlier this morning, we were not to worried to see another, but we stopped briefly at Weeting on the way past anyway. We couldn’t find the Stone Curlews here today, but we did find three regular Eurasian Curlews out in the grass, a reminder they still breed in the Brecks in small numbers.

We stopped for lunch at Lakenheath Fen. While we were eating at one of the picnic tables, a Hobby drifted overhead. We had intended to explore the reserve after lunch, but with most of the possible species we might see here already on our list for the three days, another idea sprang to mind. There has been a Red-necked Phalarope at Welney for the last couple of days, which would be a new bird for one of us. It seemed like it would be a great way to round off the trip.

While Welney is not far away as the crow flies, it was a circuitous journey round from Lakenheath, through the Fens. When we arrived at the Welney WWT visitor centre, we could hear Tree Sparrows calling from the bushes outside, but couldn’t see them. We decided to look for them later, and with other things taking priority headed straight out to look for the phalarope. The staff at the visitor centre confirmed it had still been present just a short time ago, so we set off to walk the almost 1km down to Friends Hide.

When we got to the hide, The Red-necked Phalarope was out of view. There were several pairs of Avocets on here and quite a few chicks. A pair of Little Ringed Plovers had a couple of small fluffy juveniles with them too. We had been lucky with the weather today – it was warm and bright as we walked out to the hide – but we had been promised showers in the afternoon and a brief heavy rain shower came through. The adult Avocets and Little Ringed Plovers called to their respective young and sheltered the juveniles under their wings while the rain passed over.

AvocetAvocet – sheltering their chicks under their wings during the rain shower

It quickly brightened up again and the juvenile Avocets and Little Ringed Plovers were let out. The Avocets were being very aggressive. Their idea of childcare is to let the young fend for themselves and chase off potential predators. But they have got their definition of what might be a threat to their young awry – they were busy chasing off anything and everything!

A couple of adult Avocets kept having a go at the poor Little Ringed Plovers, chasing after them while they were trying to protect their young. The adult Little Ringed Plovers tried to lead them away with a distraction display, walking away with wings dangled, trying to look injured. It didn’t really work. The Avocets would follow them at first, then when the Little Ringed Plover felt it had got far enough away, it ran back to its chick but the Avocet simply chased back after it.

Avocet and Little Ringed Plover 1Avocet & Little Ringed Plover – the latter giving a distraction display, feigning injury

The Avocets kept chasing the Red-necked Phalarope too, which was probably why it spent so much time hiding in the reeds at the front of the pool. Every time the Red-necked Phalarope swam out, it was promptly chased off. We had a couple of quick views of it. At one point, when chased, it flew across the front of the scrape and landed on a small patch of mud, but the Avocet was still after it and once again it disappeared back into the reeds.

Eventually, the juvenile Avocets moved away from the Red-necked Phalarope’s favoured corner and it managed to swim about for a while feeding out in the open where we could get a good look at it. It was a male, which in phalarope’s means it is the duller plumaged of the sexes, with the females being brighter. The females do all the displaying and leave the males to incubate and rear the young. This male Red-necked Phalarope was still a smart bird, swimming round non-stop, in and out of the reeds, picking at the waters surface for insects of ducking its head under.

Red-necked PhalaropeRed-necked Phalarope – swimming around in front of the hide

We watched the Red-necked Phalarope for a while, swimming once it finally came out into the open for a while. They are rare visitors here and this bird was probably heading up to Scandinavia or Iceland for the breeding season, though where it had spent the winter is anyone’s guess with Scandinavian birds wintering out in the Arabian Sea but recent studies showing that some of the small number of birds breeding in the Shetland Islands migrating to join the North American population in the South Pacific Ocean! When it finally swam back into the reeds again, we decided to start walking back.

On the way back, we stopped for a quick look in the other hides. There did not seem to be too much on view from Lyle Hide, apart from more Avocets – good to see that they appear to be doing so well at Welney. We heard a song that sounded vaguely reminiscent of jangling keys and looked out of the front of the hide to see a Corn Bunting perched on the top of the vegetation. We got a great look at it as it stayed there for a couple of minutes singing, before being spooked by a big flock of Rooks and dropping back down out of view.

Corn BuntingCorn Bunting – singing in front of Lyle Hide

There were several Black-tailed Godwits out to one side of the hide, but the light was bad here as we were looking into the sun. We got better views from the Nelson-Lyle Hide further back. This confirmed our suspicions that they appeared to be a mix of two different races. Nominate limosa or Continental Black-tailed Godwit breeds across Europe east from the Netherlands. Only about 50-60 pairs breed in the UK on the Ouse and Nene Washes, including a couple of pairs at Welney. First summer islandica or Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits often remain in UK in rather than migrate up to Iceland to breed. There appeared to be a mixture of the two here, including a couple of nice limosa, giving us a nice opportunity to compare them.

Continental Black-tailed GodwitContinental Black-tailed Godwit – of the nominate race, limosa

Back at the Observatory, we could see a pair of Whooper Swans in front of the hide. This is a pair of injured birds which are not capable of flying back up to Iceland to breed, so have instead nested for the last six years at Welney, where they normally spend the winter. We could only see two of the four cygnets they were meant to have this year, but  presumed the others were hiding in the vegetation. Further back across the washes we could see another six or so Whooper Swans, presumably also all injured birds.

Whooper SwanWhooper Swan – with two cygnets

Back at the visitor centre, there were three more Black-tailed Godwits on Lady Fen. A quick look at the feeders as we were leaving finally got us views of the Tree Sparrows, with at least a couple coming and going, including one with only a half-grown tail.

Tree SparrowTree Sparrow – coming to the feeders in front of the visitor centre

It was a lovely way to end three exciting action-packed days of East Anglian summer birding, watching the Red-necked Phalarope and all the other birds at Welney. It rounded off the list nicely – we had managed to see a nice set of rarer birds despite it being early June, as well as a great selection of our resident and scarcer breeding species. A job well done, we set off back for home.

 

24th July 2016 – Heath & Marsh

The third and final Summer Tour of a 3 day long weekend of tours today. It was another glorious summer’s day, with just enough of a breeze to stop us overheating.

We made our way inland and up to the Heath to start, before it got too hot. We could hear a Turtle Dove purring, but it was some distance away. As we walked up from the car park, we could hear a Linnet singing and a couple more flew past. A Common Whitethroat flew out from the trees, perched in the bracken for a few seconds and then disappeared into the long grass. A Yellowhammer was singing too.

As we turned a corner, we could hear the begging calls of juvenile Stonechats and spotted the male Stonechat in the top of a young birch tree. A little further along, we found the whole family – male, female and 3-4 streaky fledged juveniles. They were quite mobile, but the juvenile Stonechats were still sitting around on the bushes begging for food. The female was working hard to feed them, while the male seemed to keep disappearing off – perhaps he wasn’t enjoying being bugged by his unruly teenage offspring!

6O0A6593Stonechat – the female was working hard to feed the juveniles

While we were watching the Stonechats, a Dartford Warbler appeared low in the heather nearby. This is not unusual – Dartford Warblers will often follow Stonechats around, possibly for the protection afforded by their extra vigilence. This Dartford Warbler was a juvenile, rather greyish overall, but was hard to get onto, as it was keeping low and moving constantly. We repositioned ourselves and got a slightly better view, but still not everyone had managed to see it.

We watched the Stonechats coming and going for some time. Suddenly an adult Dartford Warbler flew in from behind us and dropped into the gorse among the Stonechats. Again it was quite difficult to see and we only got a couple of glimpses as it fed. Then it flew back out again in the direction it had come.

6O0A6606Juvenile Stonechat & Linnet – happened to perch in the same bush

Quiet purring behind us alerted us to the presence of another Turtle Dove, such a treat to hear these days, given rapidly how the species is disappearing. We walked round on the path to the other side of the gorse, and we quickly worked out where the noise was coming from but we couldn’t see the Turtle Dove in the thick birch trees. Then suddenly it flew up and started its display flight, flapping higher and then descending in a long glide. It flew out across the heath and landed right in the top of a tall birch, where we could get it in the scope. When it flew again, the Turtle Dove seemed to disappear off over the ridge, but a short while later it was back purring there again. Great views.

IMG_5363Turtle Dove – purring from the top of a birch

As we walked back round, we came across the Stonechat family again and the juvenile Dartford Warbler had reappeared with them. We watched as it flew back and forth across a clearing and then perched briefly in the very top of a young birch tree. This time, everyone got on it.

We carried on across the Heath and at first there seemed to be a surprising lack of butterflies. Then, as we walked down along a sandy path with short heather either side, we came across our first Silver-studded Blues. Several of them were a bit worn now, but we got a good look at the underside of the wings and the distinctive silver studded spots. There were also a few Graylings along the path. They are next to impossible to see unless they move, and we had to really keep our eyes on them after they landed.

6O0A6607Silver-studded Blue – this one with rather poorly marked silver studs

A little further still, as we were following the path round, another juvenile Dartford Warbler flew up beside us. It perched very briefly, but having been surprised by our approach it very quickly disappeared off across the Heath. Not far beyond this, we found a female Dartford Warbler skulking in the gorse. We had several glimpses of her before she flew out and disappeared back across the heather.

While we were trying to keep tabs on the female Dartford Warbler, we heard a male singing back the way we had just come. We raced round there, just in time to see him fly. We followed him round and after a couple of minutes he hopped up briefly into the top of a gorse bush and started singing. After a second or two, he was off again. He flew a bit further away and perched in the top of a large gorse bush to sing. This time he stayed still for a while and we could get him in the scope. When he finally dropped back into the dense gorse, he went quiet.

6O0A6614Dartford Warbler – the male perched up briefly, singing

As we started to walk back to see if we could find the female Dartford Warbler again, we heard a Woodlark calling and turned to see it flying past. It dropped down some distance from us, but knowing the site well it appeared to go towards another path. We hurried round and found it quietly feeding along the path, giving us very good scope views.

That was a great way to start the day, with all the heathland specialities. We decided to move on so started to walk back to the car. On the way , we flushed another two Woodlarks from the grass beside the path. They flew up before we could see them, but circled round and one perched up in the top of a gorse bush – even nicer views through scope this time.

It was getting on towards lunchtime by now, so we headed down to Cley for lunch. As we got out of the car, we could hear a Whimbrel calling over the car park. After lunch, we walked out to the hides.

Teal Hide was our first port of call. There were quite a few waders on there and the longer we scanned, the more we found. Two Common Sandpipers were feeding close in front of the hide, bobbing constantly. Further over we could see a single Green Sandpiper and a  Common Sandpiper together, a nice comparison. A lone Greenshank, slim and elegant, was walking quickly across the scrape feeding, out in middle. There were also good numbers of Black-tailed Godwits and a variety of Ruff in a confusing mix of stages of moult.

It was round into Simmond’s Hide next. There were even more Black-tailed Godwits on here, mostly Icelandic birds, but again a careful look through them and we discovered a bird which looked good for a Continental Black-tailed Godwit (subspecies limosa). In  amongst the godwits, were three Red Knot, this time living up to their name and sporting their summer plumage orange-red underparts. A single Turnstone was asleep on one of the islands, but when it woke up we finally got a chance to admire its summer plumage

6O0A6693Black-tailed Godwit – a moulting adult islandica

Another Common Sandpiper was hiding in the grass on the edge of one of the islands at the front of the scrape. Several Dunlin were hiding in amongst the godwits legs, including a single juvenile. There are always Avocets on here and today they were particularly argumentative. Two adults and three almost full-grown juveniles seemed to be having some sort of family argument – though it was hard to tell who was who.

6O0A6666

6O0A6668

6O0A6670Avocets – arguing

The ducks are all currently in eclipse plumage, so not looking their best. However, a careful scan through revealed a single eclipse drake Wigeon, our first of the autumn (though it could perhaps be a bird which has over-summered somewhere). A family of juvenile Shoveler were in the grass on the edge of the ditch right in front of the hide. Their largish bills, not yet fully grown but still noticeably big, immediately gave away their identity. There were also lots of Shelduck, and a few Teal.

6O0A6639Shoveler – a part-grown juvenile, with a small but already outsized bill

When a Little Egret flew in and walked right to the corner in front of the hide, it surprised a female Gadwall who had just brought her three small ducklings in there. She appeared out of the grass and quickly shooed the egret away.

6O0A6655Little Egret – scared off by a female Gadwall

There were several dark chocolate-brown juvenile Marsh Harriers in the reedbed and they would occasionally fly round to exercise their wings. Every time they drifted over the scrape, pandemonium ensued. This happened repeatedly while we were there. However, te panic seemed to be even more intense when a Hobby whisked through, putting everything up from North Scrape first, before we spotted it hurtling over Simmond’s and then disappearing off inland.

On the way back, we carried on past the visitor centre and paid a very brief visit to Bishop Hide. There were lots of gulls on Pat’s Pool which were better viewed from this side. They were mostly Black-headed Gulls, plus four Common Gulls, but there was no sign of the hoped-for Mediterranean Gull today. A nice close Common Sandpiper was a bonus.

6O0A6715Common Sandpiper – our fifth of the day, from Bishop Hide

Our next destination was the East Bank. Two fully-grown juvenile Little Grebes were on the new pool. We could hear and see lots of Reed Warblers in reeds. Out on Pope’s Marsh, there were plenty of adult Redshank, with several juveniles still around the Serpentine. A good number of Curlew were hiding out in the long grass.

6O0A6732Little Grebe – a juvenile, still with a rather stripey face

Arnold’s Marsh looked relatively quiet. There are not so many Sandwich Terns on here this year, possibly because the number breeding on Blakeney Point is well down on previous years. Three or four Ringed Plovers were lurking on the shingle islands. A lone Greenshank was walking back and forth. The single Red Knot promptly flew off just after we arrived.

Returning back to the car, we headed round to the beach car park next. As we walked out towards North Hide (or at least where it used to be!), we stopped by the little pool next to the fence. This was very productive, with at least 3 juvenile Yellow Wagtails, along with a lot of Pied Wagtails, Meadow Pipits and two Little Ringed Plover.

Even though the Wood Sandpiper which has been here for the last couple of days, had not been reported today, it still seemed worth a look. The first bird we saw when we sat down was the Wood Sandpiper, conveniently standing with two Redshank for comparison. We watched it picking around on the mud as it walked directly towards the hide, and eventually we lost it to view behind the vegetation in front of the hide. Still, it was well worth coming out here for that alone. There was not much else out here – a small party of Dunlin at the back and several Redshank.

IMG_5411Wood Sandpiper – on North Scrake

Time was getting on, so we decided to head back – it had been a nice way to round of the day with a smart Wood Sandpiper.

23rd July 2016 – Out Day & Night

Another Summer Tour today, the second of a 3-day long weekend of tours. We spent the morning looking for Birds of Prey, the afternoon at Titchwell and the evening with Owls and Nightjars. It was a lovely, warm, sunny day, perfect summer birding weather.

To start the day, we drove inland, meandering our way from the coast. There were still lots of House Martins coming in and out of the eaves of the houses and barns around the villages. At one point, we came across a large gathering of House Martins on the wires, which all took off just as we drove up. A reminder that the breeding season is slowly coming to an end, and autumn is just around the corner!

We parked by a farm track and walked up a lane with thick hedges either side. We could hear Yellowhammers singing, and one perched briefly on the wires ahead of us, but unfortunately not long enough for all the group to get onto it. Several Common Whitethroats darted in and out of the vegetation ahead of us, flying out from the hedge and further along the track before diving back in. A couple of Blackbirds did the same thing too.

There were lots of butterflies out in the overgrown verges here – Ringlets, Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers, Red Admirals, bright orange Commas and several Skippers, of which the only one that stopped long enough for us to confirm the ID was an Essex Skipper. A rather smart Longhorn Beetle (going by the catchy name of Agapanthia villosoviridescens!) unfortunately wasn’t hanging around either.

6O0A6553Essex Skipper – a wide variety of butterflies were along the track

Up on slightly higher ground, we found a convenient place to stand with a good view of the surrounding countryside. We managed to see a variety of raptors from here. As the air warmed, the Common Buzzards started to circle up, calling. Eventually we could see them in all directions. As one circled high above the fields, we could see a smaller bird of prey above it, which then started diving at it – a Sparrowhawk. A distant Marsh Harrier spiralled up too, as did a Kestrel or two.

There were other birds here too. We could see a big flock of Swifts & House Martins over some trees, hawking for insects. A smaller group of Swallows appeared over a distant field. A couple of Stock Doves flew back and forth and Skylarks sang overhead or fluttered over the fields. We regularly heard the twitter of Linnets overhead too. Another Yellowhammer was singing from the hedge just along from us, but it was on the wrong side and we couldn’t see it from here. A Chiffchaff called and worked its way along the hedge into the trees.

After a while, we decided to walk back. We could hear a soft tacking call from the tall hedge ahead of us, not as harsh as a Blackcap, more like the ‘tsk, tsk’ of someone tutting. It sounded like a Lesser Whitethroat, and as we got closer our suspicions were confirmed when it hopped up into top of hedge. It seemed to be annoyed at something, but we couldn’t see what, and it quickly appeared to transfer its ire to us instead as we passed.

6O0A6547Lesser Whitethroat – tacking from the hedge as we walked along

As we walked back towards the car, we could hear another Yellowhammer singing. This one we finally managed to get in the scope so everyone could see it. A nice bright yellow male, we could see its throat moving as it sang. A Bullfinch called from somewhere behind us, but it was not so obliging and remained hidden deep in bushes.

YellowhammerYellowhammer – a smart male taken here earlier in the year

From here, we meandered our way west. The fields and verges are nicely overgrown now, but it does mean it is harder to see much on our way past. A nice addition to the day’s list was provided by an adult Mediterranean Gull which circled over the road with several Black-headed Gulls, flashing its bright white wing tips, before dropping down into a field out of sight behind the hedge.

Dropping back down to the coast, we made our way to Titchwell. It was not too busy, so we had a quick look around the overflow car park. There was no sign of the Turtle Dove which has been here recently (though we found out why later!). There were lots of Greenfinches in the bushes, and a couple of Chaffinches too. A flock of tits came through – Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits – and accompanying them were a couple of Blackcaps and a Willow Warbler.

There were more tits and finches on the feeders in front of the visitor centre. Given the time, we decided to walk out to have a look at Patsy’s Reedbed first. We made a brief stop in in at Fen Hide on the way past, but the pool is now overgrown with reeds and all was quiet, so we didn’t stay long.

When we got to Patsy’s Reedbed, just about the first bird we set eyes on was a female Red-crested Pochard, out in front of the screen. The pale-tipped dark bill immediately set it apart from an eclipse male, which still retains its bright red bill even in eclipse plumage. Three full grown juvenile Common Pochard were asleep in front of the screen too. A Great Crested Grebe nearby was bathing at first, then started swimming around with its head underwater, looking for food. Further over, a Little Grebe was diving constantly. Several Avocets out here still had young in various stakes of development.

IMG_5271Red-crested Pochard – a female

With the morning gone already, we made our way back to the picnic area for lunch. We found a bit of shade. As we got up to leave, a Robin was sunning itself in a bright spot by the bench.

6O0A6559Robin – sunning itself

After lunch, we made our way out onto the main part of the reserve. The grazing marsh ‘pool’ is still mostly dry, but for a few puddles, which held very few birds today. The reedbed pool was more productive. Another Great Crested Grebe had two well-grown young in tow and another Little Grebe had a very small juvenile with it. A female Tufted Duck was also accompanied by two small ducklings, and there were a few Common Pochard, a single Shoveler and a couple of Teal, to go with the regular Mallard, providing a nice selection of wildfowl.

We could hear the ‘pinging’ call of Bearded Tits from the reeds further along but there was no sign of any from the main path when we got there. There was a nice cooling breeze now, but this meant they were probably keeping their heads down. A distant Marsh Harrier circled up briefly, but otherwise they were rather quiet this afternoon.

Before we even got to Island Hide, we could see several Spoonbills out on the freshmarsh. There were at least eight of them, tucked in on the edge of one of the islands, doing what Spoonbills do best, sleeping! Occasionally one or other would lift its head briefly, flashing its bill, before tucking it back in and going back to sleep.

IMG_5276Spoonbills – we could see at least 8 asleep on the freshmarsh

From the hide, we could see a nice selection of different waders out on freshmarsh. A careful scan with the scope picked up the Little Stint, out on one of the islands. It was mostly on own, but worked its way along towards the Dunlin, at which point it was possible to see just how ‘Little’ it was. We counted 37 Dunlin today, numbers along the coast are steadily increasing now, along with a single Knot. There were also lots of Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits, and a selection of Ruff in a confusing array of colours as they moult out of their gaudy breeding plumage.

6O0A6567

Lots of gulls and terns were loafing around on the islands. We could see lots of Common Terns, and several Sandwich Terns as well today. A careful scan through them and we came across one with an all-red bill, shorter than a Common, and also very short legs – a single Arctic Tern. In amongst all the Black-headed Gulls we found a single Common Gull, and several Lesser Black-backed Gulls. A couple of juvenile Shelduck were dabbling in the mud in front of the hide.

6O0A6563

The biggest surprise from Island Hide was finding the Turtle Dove feeding quietly on the grassy margin of the main island. It was very distant from here and inside the new wire fence, but even at that range we could see its bright rusty orange back and wings and pinkish breast. A couple of Bearded Tits made a most welcome appearance form the hide, feeding on the mud, in and out of the edge of the reeds, two bright tawny-coloured juveniles.

IMG_5294

Round at the Parrinder Hide, we finally located the Spotted Redshanks just where we thought they might be, in the far corner. There were at least seven, though probably quite a few more as they kept disappearing behind the islands. One was still liberally speckled with black summer plumage, but the rest were mostly in their silvery grey winter garb.

A juvenile Little Ringed Plover was in and out of view on a patch of drier mud, and we heard two Common Sandpipers calling as they helpfully dropped in along the water’s edge nearby. A Whimbrel did much the same – we heard it calling as it approached and, after circling over the hide, it dropped down out in the middle for a quick bathe before flying off again. A second Whimbrel didn’t even land. The vast majority of the Black-tailed Godwits which we get here are Icelandic (subspecies islandica), but it is possible to find the occasional Continental Black-tailed Godwit (limosa) too sometimes. It can be a bit of a dark art at this time of year, with subtle features relating to size and structure being the main things to look for, but a challenge was issued and we did find a single limosa out at the back of the freshmarsh.

The Yellow Wagtails proved slightly elusive at first, with just a quick glimpse of one on the fence. But eventually they gave themselves up nicely, at least three of them. A juvenile landed on the mud in front of the hide, a female perched up on the fence again and a nice bright male was unfortunately right at the opposite side against the reeds, but still stood out like a sore thumb! The Turtle Dove also put in a brief appearance a bit closer from here, but disappeared immediately out of view. When the Spoonbills finally woke up they flew off over the bank towards Brancaster.

Unfortunately, at this stage, we were running out of time – there had been so much to see around the freshmarsh today. We had a quick look at the Volunteer Marsh, but it was very quiet out there, then it was back to the car and heading for home.

Nightjar Evening

We met up again later on, after a break and something to eat, for the Nightjar Evening. Our first target was to look for some owls, and Little Owl was a particular request, so we drove out to a favoured spot. It didn’t take long to find a distant Little Owl perched up on some old farm buildings. We got it in the scope but after a couple of minutes it flew down to the ground and was lost to view. Only at this point did we realise that a second Little Owl was perched on another barn much closer to us. We got great views of it in the scope, sitting quietly in the last of the evening sunshine soaking up some rays. A Brown Hare appeared and also provided a nice distraction.

IMG_5327Little Owl – enjoying the evening sunshine

From here it was on to look for Barn Owls. Normally they are very busy at this time of year, with young about to fledge, but this year our regular area appears rather quieter. There are several pairs around here, but the birds at the moment are not appearing until much later in the evening. It seems most likely that the cold, wet spring has affected breeding success. One Barn Owl eventually came out, a female, and started hunting. We watched it working its way back and forth around a field. When it did finally catch something, it showed no sign of taking its prey back to the nest, but disappeared out of view with it, presumably to a convenient perch. With Nightjars our main target for the evening, we couldn’t linger longer here for more Barn Owls to emerge.

So, it was up to the Heath next. Almost immediately after we had walked out to our regular spot, we heard a Nightjar call. A good job we hadn’t waited longer for the Barn Owls! Shortly afterwards, the first Nightjar started churring. First one churred in front of us, then another started up behind us. Even better, the latter then flew around and landed in a tree nearby. It was on a dead branch, out in full view, where we could get fantastic view of it in the scope. It perched there for several minutes, looking round, churring. Stunning!

IMG_5357Nightjar – perched out churring in full view for us

We stayed for a while listening to the Nightjars. There were at least 3 churring males within earshot tonight, and calls off suggested one or two females too. The males were constantly switching churring posts, flying round their territories and advertising their presence. Finally, as the light faded, we called it a day, and a long and fruitful one it had been too!

19th August 2015 – Wonderful Waders

A Private Tour today, for some visitors from Australia. The request was to see some waders and August is certainly a great time of year to go looking for them. We headed up to the North Norfolk coast hoping to see as wide a variety as possible. We were not disappointed.

We started at Cley. It was cloudy first thing and there were lots of House Martins hawking for insects low over the houses as we walked out to the hides. It had been raining overnight and the reeds were very wet. Probably as a consequence, there were lots of birds feeding up in the dead trees. As well as the resident Goldfinches, there were a couple of young Reed Buntings, two Reed Warblers and a Sedge Warbler. It was particularly nice to see the latter two out in the open side by side.

While it was cloudy we had a quick look at Pat’s Pool first. There were lots of Black-tailed Godwits feeding out in the deeper water or sleeping further over amongst the islands. The vast majority of them were Icelandic birds, and mostly moulting adults or greyer 1st summers. However, amongst them a slightly larger godwit with a proportionately longer and deeper based bill stood out. A closer look confirmed it was a juvenile Continental Black-tailed Godwit (of the limosa subspecies), one of two which have been present on the reserve in recent days.

IMG_8347Continental Black-tailed Godwit – one of two juveniles currently at Cley

There are also lots of Ruff around at the moment. The adults have now mostly moulted into winter plumage, but good numbers of juveniles have now joined them. We spent some time looking at the differences between them – the more subtly scaly grey upperparts of the adults and whiter underparts, compared to the buff/brown colour of the juveniles.

There were also some nice groups of Dunlin on the reserve this morning. Juvenile Dunlin now outnumber the adults, and we watched a little flock of juveniles, with black spotted bellies, feeding on the front of the first island. Further over, we could also make out a few black-bellied adults in the flocks.

P1070935Dunlin – the flocks currently comprise more juveniles than adults

The ducks have also started to return in numbers. However, the drakes are all in drab eclipse plumage at the moment, making identification more of a challenge. We spent a little time looking at some of them – a nice group of rusty Wigeon feeding on one of the islands, a couple of large-billed Shoveler and lots of Teal.

We had not been there too long when the sun came out, rather earlier than expected, but a nice surprise. Unfortunately, we found ourselves looking into the sun so we moved round to Dauke’s Hide to check out Simmond’s Scrape instead. There was a lovely flock of Dunlin feeding out in front of us and as we scanned through them we found a couple of different waders in amongst them. First up were the Little Stints. Noticeably smaller than the Dunlin and with very white underparts, they stood out. There were two Little Stints in the flock, and we also admired their shorter, finer bills and whiter faces than the Dunlin.

IMG_8359Little Stint – we found two in with the Dunlin flock this morning

In contrast, the Knot were noticeably larger than the Dunlin. There was no hiding the bright, summer plumage adult, sporting bright orange underparts, but the peachy-breasted juvenile was more subtle. As well as size, the Knot were more rotund and shorter-billed, and lacked the dark belly markings of the Dunlin. On the open mud on the islands nearby, several Ringed Plovers were running around as well.

Out in the far corner of the scrape, we picked up a single Green Sandpiper feeding amongst the vegetation. Thankfully it flew round calling and landed much closer to us, where we could a better look at it through the scope, before it made its way back into one of the more secluded areas, out of view. A large flock of Lapwing flew in and landed on Pat’s Pool and we could hear Golden Plover calling as well as they arrived though couldn’t pick any out looking into the sun at the massed ranks. A single Sandwich Tern was hiding amongst the roosting Black-headed Gulls, from where we could get a great view of the distinctive yellow tip to its black bill.

IMG_8380Sandwich Tern – with a yellow-tipped black bill

One of the other people in the hide thought they had seen a Hobby distantly over the shingle ridge and suddenly not one but two Hobbys powered in towards us from the direction of North Scrape. The birds we had been watching on the scrapes all scattered, particularly the Dunlin flock which whirled round over the water in panic. One of the Hobbys stooped at the flock and in the resulting chaos one of the waders got separated from the group. The two Hobbys then proceeded to take turns stooping at it – unfortunately chasing it round behind the hide where we couldn’t see its fate. Stunning to watch.

As the waders all scattered, we could hear a Wood Sandpiper calling and managed to pick up two distantly, flying off over the Eye Field with a flock of Dunlin. There was very little left on Simmond’s Scrape after that, so we decided to have a look at North Scrape instead. As we walked along the beach, we could see a few distant Gannets passing by offshore.

The Hobbys had also done a good job at clearing out North Scrape of waders, and there were only a handful of Dunlin left, amongst the hordes of ducks. We did see our first Curlew of the day, preening out on one of the islands. And, as we sat and watched for a while, a Greenshank appeared feeding very actively around the edge of the scrape.

Just as things were settling down, a Sparrowhawk flew over. It was chased off by a Little Ringed Plover which came up from the pool behind us by the beach, heading away over Billy’s Wash. As it did so, it flushed a couple of Common Snipe, Green Sandpipers and Wood Sandpipers from where they had been lurking out of sight, though they quickly dropped down again amongst the tall grass.

Once the Sparrowhawk had disappeared, the Little Ringed Plover dropped back down onto a shingle island in the pool. As we walked round to get a better look at it, we could see why. A second Little Ringed Plover appeared from the vegetation, this one a scaly backed juvenile, not fully grown and still with fluffy juvenile down on its head. We got a good look at both of them in the scope, particularly noting the bright golden-yellow eye-ring of the adult. While we were watching them, we heard a Common Sandpiper calling and it appeared from over the Eye Field and dropped down onto the island beside them. It stood bobbing its tail for a second, before disappearing round the back out of view.

IMG_8403Little Ringed Plover – an adult with bright yellow eye-ring

We had done really well for waders at Cley this morning, but there were a couple of key target species missing. We decided to head along to Titchwell for the afternoon, to see what else we could add.

On the walk out, we stopped to have a look at the reedbed pool. A single female Red-crested Pochard was out on the water,along with a selection of commoner ducks. A well-grown, stripy-headed juvenile Great Crested Grebe swam out into the middle but an adult Little Grebe stayed close to the reed edge with its smaller youngster. We could hear Bearded Tits calling, but they did not show themselves today – perhaps it was just a touch too breezy.

P1080136Avocet – needless to say, there were plenty still at Titchwell today

The water level on the freshmarsh is still higher than it has been in recent weeks, and there were fewer small waders as a result. From Island Hide, we could see that there were still a few Dunlin, mostly juveniles, lurking around the edges of the islands or the remaining strips of mud over by the edge of the reeds. However, we did see our third Little Stint of the day, over on the islands by the main path – we would have a closer look at that later!

Out in the middle of the freshmarsh was a large flock of roosting waders. Through the scope we could see that they were mostly Bar-tailed Godwits, sleeping out the high tide on the beach. Also asleep amongst the islands, we located one of the wader species we had hoped to see – a small group of 8 Spotted Redshanks. They were mostly asleep, but a couple woke up and had a quick preen, letting us see the long and needle-fine bill, with a small downward kink just at the very tip. They were all mostly in silvery grey and sparkling white winter plumage but a ninth Spotted Redshank joined them, this one still in partial summer plumage with extensive white splotches on its formerly black underparts.

IMG_8458Spotted Redshanks – nine, one still in partial black summer plumage

Over on the edge of the reeds, a Green Sandpiper was feeding in and out of the vegetation. It stopped for a while to preen and we got a great look at it in the scope. A Common Sandpiper appeared next to it – much smaller, paler and greyer-brown above, and with the distinctive white spur between the breast and folded wing. A great side-by-side comparison.

IMG_8426Green Sandpiper – preening by the edge of the reeds

There is no exposed mud in front of Island Hide at the moment, so fewer waders close in. However, those that do come in can be very close indeed. Today we were graced with excellent frame-filling views of a couple of adult Ruff….

P1080145Ruff – an adult, right outside Island Hide

… and Lapwing.

P1080076Lapwing – also right in front of Island Hide

There were also lots of gulls roosting on the freshmarsh. Lots of Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Black-headed Gulls, plus several Herring Gulls and a handful of Common Gulls. In amongst them, a single bird with a mantle intermediate in grey shade between the Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and sporting yellow legs, was an adult Yellow-legged Gull. There were also a few Common Terns, as usual.

IMG_8423Common Tern – checking the water level on the freshmarsh

We decided to head round to Parrinder Hide to see if we could add anything else to the day’s list. From up on the bank, we could see the Little Stint still out on the islands. We stopped to watch it and it flew even closer, onto the nearest island and feeding feverishly, it worked its way right round in front of us giving us great views.

IMG_8492Little Stint – great views on the edge of the freshmarsh this afternoon

While we were watching the Little Stint, we picked up a Hobby approaching from further out towards the sea. It came leisurely towards us until it got over the path to Parrinder Hide, when it suddenly turned and dropped into a steep dive towards the freshmarsh. For some reason, rather than targeting something small and bite-sized like a Dunlin, it made straight for an unsuspecting Lapwing. Both birds seemed to get a bit of a shock – the Lapwing realised its impending fate at the last minute and leapt up with wings open, whereupon the size of its target presumably dawned on the Hobby and it veered away sharply. The moment of surprise was squandered and it drifted off towards the reedbed.

It was worth the walk round to Parrinder Hide today. A Common Snipe stood preening on the water’s edge in front before disappearing back into the vegetation. We finally got proper views of a Wood Sandpiper for the day, on one of islands over by the bank, at one point joined by two more Common Sandpipers. Two Yellow Wagtails were flitting round with the Pied Wagtails.

IMG_8502Common Snipe – hiding in the vegetation from Parrinder Hide

Out on the Volunteer Marsh, were several Grey Plovers. Most of them are still in stunning summer plumage, with black bellies and faces and bright white speckled upperparts.

IMG_8495Grey Plover – particularly stunning birds in summer plumage

In front of the hide, we also had great views of a particularly obliging Curlew, which walked slowly past us, occasionally stopping to probe into the mud. While we were in the hide, a Marsh Harrier flew over – another passing raptor throwing the waders into a panic once again. A flock of Dunlin swirled round with the Little Stint now in amongst them for safety and landed out on Volunteer Marsh once the panic subsided.

P1080215Curlew – this obliging individual posed in front of Parrinder Hide

Out at the tidal pools, a careful scan revealed a bird hiding in the long grass. It was feeding and occasionally put its head up just long enough to confirm it was a Whimbrel, with pale central crown stripe between two dark lateral stripes, rather different from the plainer head of the Curlew behind. There were also more Black-tailed Godwits feeding out here today, a couple still in rusty summer plumage.

P1080270Black-tailed Godwit – another particularly obliging bird today

There were only a couple of other waders we could possibly see in North Norfolk today and we found both of them out on the beach. Several Turnstone were out on the rocks, mostly still in bright summer plumage. Further east, a couple of Sanderling were feeding out on the wet sand. There were also the usual Oystercatchers, Bar-tailed Godwits, Knot, Curlews and Redshanks out there today. A quick look at the sea to round things off produced a single Common Scoter and Great Crested Grebe.

Then it was time to head back, pausing to admire a Little Egret by the path on the way. It had been quite a day – with 24 species of wader to show for it, as well as much more besides.

P1080294Little Egret – by the path on our way back; note the yellow feet

15th August 2015 – Whinchats, Wheatears & Waders

Day 2 of a long weekend of tours today. We headed east along the coast to explore the Cley area.

It had been raining rain overnight, and while that had stopped by morning it was still overcast, cool and damp. There were lots of hirundines hawking for inescts over the NWT reserve at Cley as we arrived. A scan through revealed three Swifts amongst them – most of our Swifts appear to have departed already. We decided to head out to the main hides first, given the conditions. We could see lots of waders on the scrapes from the car park.

Unfortunately, just as we were getting ready to leave we spotted the warden in his Land Rover leading the cows off the grazing marsh. One of the herdsmen was walking behind shouting. They made their way right around the edge of the scrapes – needless to say all the waders took flight, departing in all directions. What perfect timing – 9am on a busy Saturday morning, just as all the visitors are about to arrive to see the birds!

We decided to head round to North Scrape instead, which turned out to be a fortuitous decision. As we walked along the beach from the car park, we could see several Gannets passing by offshore in the cool NW wind, and a trickle of Sandwich and Common Terns heading back towards Blakeney Point. We had almost made it to North Scrape when a flash of a white rump ahead of us and a Wheatear landed on one of the larger stones. We stopped to look at it and a second Wheatear flew in next to it. They flicked off along the fence line and as we walked up to the turn to the scrape, we scanned the beach beyond. A different bird was perched up on the fence next to them – slightly smaller, more upright, and with a well-marked pale supercilium, it was a Whinchat. A great way to start the day, with a nice little group of autumn migrants.

IMG_7987Whinchat – on the fence by North Scrape with a couple of Wheatears

There were lots of waders out on North Scrape – probably quite a few flushed off the rest of the reserve by the warden! Dunlin is the default small wader here, and it is always worth scanning through the flocks to see if there are any other waders with them. There were over 110 Dunlin out feeding on the mud today. In amongst the nearer group, a slightly larger, plumper, darker grey bird stood out – a Purple Sandpiper. More often seen over the winter on the rockier sea defenses around the coast, this was a nice surprise to see here.

IMG_7999Purple Sandpiper – in amongst the Dunlin on North Scrape

Further back, in amongst a larger flock of Dunlin, we could see a single moulting adult Curlew Sandpiper, its chestnut summer underparts speckled with winter white now. On the edge of the flock, on the drier mud, two much smaller waders were Little Stints, their white faces and bellies obvious even at a distance. We sat patiently, scanning through the mass of birds out on the scrape, and eventually that group came much closer giving us much better views through the scope.

IMG_8033Curlew Sandpiper – also in amongst the Dunlin

There were other waders to find out there as well. A little group of Ringed Plovers were feeding around the edge of one of the islands. A juvenile Knot was down near the front of the scrape at first, half associating with the Dunlin, but happy to do its own thing.

IMG_8013Knot – a juvenile with a light peachy wash to the breast and belly

We could hear some of the sandpipers, more than we could hear them. There were 2-3 Green Sandpipers but they prefer to feed amongst the vegetation around the edge of the scrapes. Occasionally one would fly round calling and we got one of them in the scope when it stopped to preen in the open. The Wood Sandpiper was less obliging, flying round calling, but dropping down over on Billy’s Wash out of view. The Common Sandpipers were easier to see, feeding around the grassy edges of the islands, bobbing up and down as they did so. A couple of Greenshank performed nicely as well.

IMG_8028Greenshank – feeding on North Scrape

In the end, we counted 14 species of wader on North Scrape this morning, including all the more numerous species, such as Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff and Avocet. This was not even counting the Wood Sandpiper and a Turnstone, both of which were only heard overhead and neither of which actually dropped in while we were there. A very respectable score!

We had intended to head back round to the main hides next, but while we were at North Scrape we saw the herdsmen walking round the scrapes again – presumably they had lost one of the herd? With all that disturbance, we decided to head round to the East Bank instead. As we walked back to the car, we scanned the sea. A Common Scoter flew past, along with a few more Gannets. Further out, we picked up a couple of Little Gulls dipping down to the sea, feeding.

It was a bit breezy up on the East Bank. We could hear Bearded Tits pinging, but they were keeping down in the wind – it was not a good day to look for them. Out across the reedbed, we could see one of the juvenile Marsh Harriers perched in a bush – dark chocolate brown body plumage with an orangey town to the crown. It was struggling to stay still in the wind. A second juvenile flew round and more sensibly dropped back down into the shelter of the reeds!

IMG_8042Marsh Harrier – an orangey-headed juvenile was trying to balance on a bush

There were a few waders out on the Serpentine. Several Black-tailed Godwits were feeding in the deeper water, a mixture of rusty summer plumaged birds and greyer mostly winter individuals and some in between. The Ruff were harder to see, keeping to the grassy edges out of the wind. A Common Sandpiper was similarly lurking amongst the vegetation.

IMG_8056Black-tailed Godwit – several were feeding on the Serpentine

There were fewer waders out on Arnold’s Marsh then in recent weeks. Another large group of Black-tailed Godwits were mostly sleeping, with a couple of Knot in amongst them. The usual gathering of noisy Sandwich Terns was on one of the islands. As we walked back along the East Bank, we did find a couple of Common Darters trying to catch the now emerging sun, despite the breeze.

P1070589Common Darter – basking on the stones along East Bank

We stopped for lunch at the Visitor Centre. With the weather brightening and the sun out, we were even able to sit outside at the picnic tables. While we were eating, a family of Lesser Whitethroats flew across from the overflow car park and started to feed in the young holm oaks in front us. Very nice lunchtime entertainment!

P1070616Lesser Whitethroat – feeding in the young trees by the picnic tables

After lunch, with the disturbance of the cow herding finally having abated, we headed out to the main hides. On our way, there were lots more Common Darters along the path and a Blue-tailed Damselfly in the reeds along the ditch.

There were still not the number of waders that there had been first thing, but a few of particularly the larger species had made their way back in. The numbers were dominated by Ruff – a mixture of paler, mostly winter-plumaged adults and several browner juveniles – and Black-tailed Godwits. Most of the Black-tailed Godwits we get are from Iceland – of the islandica subspecies. Scanning carefully through the flock, we eventually found a juvenile Continental Black-tailed Godwit – of the limosa subspecies. A nearby juvenile islandica gave a nice opportunity to compare the two.

IMG_8071Continental Black-tailed Godwit – a juvenile of the limosa subspecies

In amongst a little group of Ruff feeding in the deeper water on Pat’s Pool, we found another Curlew Sandpiper, out second of the day. Again, a moulting adult with white flecked chestnut underparts. A big flock of Lapwing dropped in, presumably flushed of the fields nearby. Another Common Sandpiper was working its way round the islands.

IMG_8097Curlew Sandpiper – our second of the day, this one on Pat’s Pool

We still had time left in the day to do one more thing, so we drove round to Kelling and walked down along the track to the Water Meadow. A flock of Long-tailed Tits was feeding in the tall blackthorn hedge. A Chiffchaff was calling from the holly trees along the lane. As we got down to the Water Meadow, a couple of Whitethroat flew out of the hedge. Out on the pool, there were only a handful of waders – two juvenile Ruff, a lone Redshank and a single Ringed Plover. Three Little Egrets were feeding in the shallows.

The wind had now dropped and it was warm in the sunshine. There were several butterflies and dragonflies out now. An Emperor Dragonfly was hawking for insects along the path. As well as a few Gatekeepers and a Speckled Wood along the lane, we came across several Common Blues around the shorter vegetation down on the coast.

There were lots of Goldfinch and Linnets in the brambles on the hillside behind the beach, post-breeding with plenty of juveniles. In amongst the, along the fence line, we came across a little family group of Stonechats. The male perched on the fence preening whilst the juveniles kept dropping down amongst the thistles in the field.The female Stonechat was further up the fence, higher up on the hillside, and while we were watching her a much paler, buffier bird appeared alongside – a Whinchat. It was feeding differently to the Stonechats, flying up above the bushes, hawking for insects. We decided to walk round and up the hill for a better look. Further down the track, out on the Quags, a single Wheatear was feeding in with cows on the shorter grazed grass.

IMG_8106Wheatear – out on the Quags at Kelling

Round on the hillside, we had a great view along the coast and out to sea. We could hear Whimbrel calling and picked up 3 distantly, flying in off the sea before turning and heading east away from us. We could also hear Stonechats calling and could see a couple on the fence ahead of us. Suddenly a Whinchat appeared as well. Before we could get the scope on it, the female Stonechat chased it away down towards the sea. Only when the Stonechats had returned to feeding their youngsters, did the Whinchat return to the fence, before being chased away again.

IMG_8127Whinchat – one of two down at Kelling this afternoon

We eventually got a good look at it – when it wasn’t being chased off. Then we turned to head back. As we did so, we saw that the Whinchat we had seen earlier was still flycatching on the other side of the hill – there were actually two present with the Stonechats. As walked back we could hear the Swallows alarm calling and looked up to see a Sparrowhawk shoot through. Another Swallow back in the village was more relaxed, preening on the wires above the car as we packed up for the day.

P1070707Swallow – preening on the wires in Kelling village

11th August 2015 – Waders & Spoonbills

A Private Tour today. With autumn just around the corner and waders already moving south in some numbers at this time of year, we headed out to explore the coast and try to familiarise ourselves with the wide variety of shorebirds passing through.

Our first destination was Titchwell, but we made our way there through the agricultural hinterland behind the coast, so avoiding the congestion that often marks the main coast road in the summer. The wheat is ripe and golden brown now and where it had been harvested we found Brown Hares in the stubble. At Choseley, we stopped briefly to admire a golden-headed male Yellowhammer feeding along the edge of the road. The hedge nearby was being raided by a noisy rabble of Starlings, their gathering numbers another harbinger of the impending end of summer.

Down at Titchwell, we headed straight out onto the reserve. The verge along the sea wall by the main path was full of insects. We stopped to admire a yellow female Common Darter dragonfly on the brambles and several butterflies, including several Gatekeepers and a few now rather faded Meadow Browns. A Wall butterfly perched rather obligingly – and appropriately – on one of the signs on the sea wall.

P1070275Wall – on a rather appropriate sign

There was a nice selection of commoner ducks on the reedbed pool, all in rather drab eclipse plumage now, including Gadwall, Teal and Shoveler. Amongst them, we found three female Red-crested Pochards – their dark brown caps and paler cheeks setting them apart. Diving constantly were a couple of Tufted Ducks and a female Common Pochard as well. As well as ducks, the juvenile Great Crested Grebe was still present, still sporting its stripy head, and a couple of well grown young Little Grebes were being fed by one of their parents along the edge of the reeds. A Water Rail squealed from deep in the reedbed.

The freshmarsh was looking as inviting as ever and thronged with waders. There have been record numbers of Avocets on the freshmarsh in the last month or so and there was still an impressive number today – at least 300. We made our way into Island Hide and the mud in front was full of Dunlin. The default ‘small wader’, we spent some time looking closely at them. The majority now are juvenile birds, with white bellies variably speckled with black. Amonst them, we could see a smaller number of adult Dunlin, still sporting the bolder black belly patch of their summer plumage.

P1070395Dunlin – most of the birds present today were juveniles

In amongst the Dunlin, right in front of the hide, were several Ruff. As with the Dunlin, there are more juvenile birds around now, with brighter scaled backs and breasts ranging from deep buff to burnt orange. Amongst them, we could still find several adult Ruff, now mostly in winter plumage, much greyer above and whiter below than the juveniles. Still a couple of tardy males were sporting the last remnants of their bright summer plumage, though looking a bit scruffy now as they finish their moult.

P1070319Ruff – a scaly-backed, buff-breasted juvenile

The godwits were mostly asleep on one of the islands, mostly Black-tailed Godwits at this time of tide. The majority of the Black-tailed Godwits we see along the coast here are birds from Iceland (the islandica subspecies), but amongst them we occasionally get Continental Black-tailed Godwits (the limosa subspecies). Amongst the moulting adult and 1st summer Icelandic birds, we found a single juvenile of the Continental subspecies, much plainer and greyer than the brighter rusty juvenile islandica nearby.

IMG_7846Continental Black-tailed Godwit – the tall, lanky juvenile in mid-photo

There were some scarcer species of wader in amongst the commoner hordes as well, and with some patient scanning we gradually found them. A larger, longer necked bird in amongst the Dunlin was clearly different. A closer look confirmed the bright spangled upperparts and pale supercilium of a Wood Sandpiper. A second Wood Sandpiper was lurking at the back of the freshmarsh with a small group of Ruff – noticeably smaller and sleeker than those.

Also among the Dunlin was a much smaller wader, similar in general colour above but paler below and lacking the black belly patch or streaking and with a rather short, fine bill – a Little Stint. While the Dunlin were generally feeding out in the water or wetter mud, the Little Stint was mostly running around on the drier edges of the islands.

IMG_7869Little Stint – a tiny wader, hiding in amongst the Dunlin flock

We also located a couple of Little Ringed Plovers amongst the smaller waders. Lacking the bold black and white head pattern of adults, these were young birds but we could still see the ghosting of the adult’s distinctive golden-yellow eye ring. A single Ringed Plover was out on the freshmarsh as well. A couple of Golden Plover appeared from amongst the vegetation on one of the islands with the Lapwing, but didn’t linger. However, on our way back later a much larger group of Golden Plover had appeared, presumably from feeding inland, and was bathing and preening back on the islands.

P1070442Little Ringed Plover – a couple were still on the freshmarsh

While we were in Island Hide, we could hear the pinging of Bearded Tits continually from the reeds. Several juveniles have been in the habit of feeding out on the mud in recent weeks, but there was no sign of them at first. A couple of Reed Warblers were feeding low down on the edge of the reeds. Only once we were back up on the main path did they appear – four rich, tawny coloured juvenile Bearded Tits, one of them still with only part grown tail. We got a good look at them in the scope.

IMG_7814Bearded Tits – the juveniles on the mud, taken a couple of days earlier

While we were up on the sea wall, the waders suddenly took flight and started whirling round calling. A look overhead revealed a falcon high in the sky. It was quickly joined by a second and the two of them circled over the water, a pair of Hobbys. Their mere presence caused pandemonium below, before they drifted off out of view. Out across the saltmarsh a couple of Marsh Harriers circled.

The Spoonbills have had another successful breeding season in Norfolk and the juveniles, together with their accompanying parents, can still be seen gathering at several sites along the coast. We could see a small group over the back of the freshmarsh when we first arrived, but there was no sign of them from Island Hide. They have a habit of walking round the back of the furthest island to sleep out of view. And Spoonbills do like to spend a lot of time sleeping! We got a better view of them from round at Parrinder Hide, 10 in total. They even woke up on occasion!

IMG_7896Spoonbill – 10 this morning, during one of their waking moments

We added a couple more waders to the day’s list from round at Parrinder Hide as well. In the deeper water at the back, we could see several Spotted Redshanks. Now mostly in winter plumage, much white below and paler silvery grey above than Common Redshank an with a longer needle-fine bill. A couple of Bar-tailed Godwits dropped in with the Black-tailed Godwits – in winter plumage, they were clearly paler and we could see their more streaked upperparts.

The Volunteer Marsh was mostly quiet, apart from a few Common Redshank and a couple of Curlew. However, a quick scan along the tidal channel revealed a very smart Grey Plover, still sporting the black belly and face of summer plumage. There were a couple more Grey Plover on the tidal pools, though one already lacking its black belly and the other moulting it out. Amongst the gathering of Common Redshank, we also found a single Greenshank luring at the back.

As we walked out to the beach, we could hear and see flocks of waders flying up and heading in behind us. The tide was on its way in but this still seemed a little early and when we got out there we could see why, with lots of holidaymakers clambering over the rocks. There were still a few Turnstone, still looking stunning in their brighter summer plumage, plus several Oystercatcher and Bar-tailed Godwits. Further along the beach towards Brancaster, where it was quieter, there was a small flock of Sanderling running in and out of the incoming tide. The sea itself was quiet. A couple of male Common Scoter were swimming past offshore and  few Sandwich Terns fishing.

As we headed back to the car for lunch, we stopped briefly to look at the freshmarsh again. Many of the waders which had been disturbed from the beach were now bathing and roosting there. In particular, there was a much larger flock of Bar-tailed Godwits and a scan through them also revealed a few Knot. Several were still in summer plumage, with bright orange underparts, but one was in the more familiar grey non-breeding plumage which is how we normally see them here during the winter months.

In the afternoon, we headed back along the coast to Stiffkey Fen. The hedgerows along the path were nicely overgrown and full of butterflies. Mostly Gatekeepers again, but amongst them we saw a very faded Ringlet as well.

P1070450Gatekeeper – the overgrown hedgerows were full of them today

As we approached the Fen we could immediately see a large gathering of white shapes on the islands. More Spoonbills, and yet again most of them were asleep. One was feeding rather tentatively in the shallows and as it lifted its head we could see the shorter, paler bill of a juvenile, one of the young born this year. From up on the seawall, we got a chance to count them, a grand total of twenty in all.

P1070468IMG_7908Spoonbill – a total of 20 at Stiffkey Fen today, mostly asleep!

As we scanned over the Fen from up on the sea wall, two of the Spoonbills set off for a walk round. It was immediately obvious that one was pursuing the other and a quick look showed it was one of the juveniles chasing after an adult bird. The juvenile Spoonbills are relentless, begging from their parents when they want to be fed, chasing after them flapping their wings and bouncing their heads up and down. Every time we looked back, the two were still walking round and round the Fen.

P1070474Spoonbills – a ‘little beggar’ juvenile chasing after a parent

We could hear Green Sandpipers calling as we walked out, but there was no sign of them on the Fen when we got there. They played hide and seek for a while, occasionally flying round calling before landing out of view, until they finally gave themselves up and landed at the front. We saw at least three, but there could easily have been more. As we got onto the seawall, there were two Common Sandpipers on the muddy edge of the tidal channel beyond, and they disappeared upstream out of view. Later, as the tide rose and the mud disappeared, they flew back out and onto the Fen. We could see the diagnostic white spur between the grey breast and wings.

As the tide rose in the harbour, the Greenshank started to fly into the Fen as well. First one arrived, calling loudly. As we stood there more dropped in. Eventually a little group of 5 stood together on the edge of one of the islands at the back. There were other commoner waders here as well, a flock of Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank, together with a few Ruff. In amongst the legs of the larger waders, 2-3 Dunlin were feeding. Avocets breed on the Fen and a pair were obviously still feeling protective, even though we could not see if they had any young. Every few minutes they would fly up off the Fen and over towards the sea wall, calling, occasionally coming low overhead.

P1070484Avocet – a pair of adults repeatedly flew over us on the sea wall

The Spoonbills started to become a bit more active as we stood there, and several flew off over our heads and out towards the saltmarsh. At one point, an adult flew over followed by two juveniles – presumably a family group.

P1070494Spoonbill – great flight views as birds headed out to the saltmarsh

With the tide rising, we walked on round to have a look in the harbour. A Kingfisher called and flashed across the reeds, disappearing into the river channel. A short while later, round at the harbour, it reappeared – flying out along the tidal channel beside us in a flash of electric blue and disappearing towards the ‘Pit’.

There were not so many waders left, with the tide covering most of the mud. As we walked round, we could hear Whimbrel calling and picked up a couple of good sized flocks flying high over the harbour, heading west presumably to roost. Several Curlew were also heading the same way. There were little groups of Oystercatcher gathered round the edge with a few Turnstone amongst them. A few waders landed out on the last remaining sandbar. Through the scope we could see several Grey Plover, most still sporting smart black bellies, and a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits with two smaller Knot in amongst them. Two even smaller Dunlin flew in as well, but all were quickly pushed off by the tide.

Then it was time to head back, pausing briefly to admire a stunning red-breasted male Linnet. There was time for one more surprise. As we passed the Fen, a small wader flew in and landed on the edge of one of the islands out of view. Working our way round to where we could see it, we found a Little Stint feeding with the two Common Sandpipers. A lovely way to end – a great day out with a particularly nice selection of waders.

P1070480Stiffkey Fen from the seawall

P1070482Blakeney Harbour – the view the other side from the Fen

27th June 2015 – Spoonbills Galore & More

A Summer Tour today, in North Norfolk. It was a gloriously sunny day, but with a fresh breeze never got too hot or humid. A lovely day to be out birding. We met up at the car park at Cley and while we were loading the car, we could see our first Spoonbill of the day out on the scrapes. A forerunner of things to come!

IMG_6420Spoonbill – our first of the day, from the car park at Cley

We headed up to the Heath first, hoping to make the most of it before it got too hot and too busy. As we walked out along the path, we could hear Willow Warblers and Whitethroats singing. A Yellowhammer added its voice to the chorus – a ‘little-bit-of-bread-no-cheese’. Little family groups of Linnets were flying around among the gorse. We could hear a pair of Bullfinch calling softly, but they flew off across the Heath to cover as we approached.

We could hear the delicate purring of a Turtle Dove, but we couldn’t see it at first, hidden amongst the birch trees. The next thing we knew it appeared at the very top of one of them and set up in the sunshine giving us a great view. We could see its neck puffing out as it purred. Then it launched itself into a display flight, flying up with a quick burst of flapping, then gliding round in circles over the trees before dropping down onto the same perch as before. With the population of Turtle Doves in the UK collapsing, how much longer will we be able to enjoy such a beautiful sound and sight?

IMG_6430Turtle Dove – purring and display flighting

While we were watching the Turtle Dove, a Garden Warbler burst into song nearby. We listened to it for a minute of so, noting the faster, rolling cadence than a Blackcap. We worked our way round behind it, onto main path. A Cuckoo flew over quietly and disappeared between the trees. We found the Garden Warbler amongst the birches, and got a quick view of it perched out, but it was darting around quickly. A second bird singing nearby.

As we walked on around the Heath we could hear Woodlarks calling. It sounded as if they were further away, but suddenly one flew a short distance along the verge in front of us. Woodlarks have a remarkable ability to throw their voice. We could just see it feeding down amongst heather. It was obviously nervous at our presence and even though we stood still it took off. Another two Woodlarks followed it up from the ground – a family party, with a well grown fledgeling. They landed a little further over in a clearing, but once we got round there we couldn’t find them again. Presumably they had walked off through teh grass feeding. Another Turtle Dove was purring from the trees.

We had seen a male Stonechat perched in the top of some dead trees in the clearing as we approached, so we walked over to look for it. There was no sign initially, but someone with a camera had just walked right through the middle of the grass. With Woodlarks nesting on the ground in the area, this is never the most sensible thing to do. We stuck to the path, and the male Stonechat reappeared behind us on a fence post. Two Woodlarks then flew in next to it, a nice combination through the scope! The Woodlarks flew back towards where we had disturbed them earlier and then a female Stonechat appeared as well. A Green Woodpecker called nearby, but flew off towards the woods.

IMG_6447Stonechat – the male performed for us as we stayed on the path

It seemed a perfect day for the Dartford Warblers – bright and not too breezy. However, we tried walking around several territories but all was quiet today. The birds are onto their second broods now so perhaps the males have taken a break from territorial duties. On our way back, we saw one of the Woodlarks again, heading back towards the favourite area carrying food. It landed on a fence post nearby, watching us nervously.

IMG_6469Woodlark – we found a family party with well grown fledgeling

As we headed back to the car, a Hobby appeared flying low over the Heath. It looked to be carrying prey, and disappeared off over the trees. We saw lots of Silver-studded Blues as well today, fluttering around in the low vegetation in the grass and mown areas.

P1030710Silver-studded Blue – lots were on the wing today

We drove round via the coast road and stopped down at Salthouse by the Iron Road next. The pools here have been very productive this year, with the higher water levels. However, the vegetation has now grown up a lot and it is harder to see the birds! We found a Curlew hiding in the reeds along the main drain – one of the many waders which has already been returning in the last few days. There were several Sand Martins flying low over the water hawking for insects.

We had seen lots of birds on one of the other pools as we drove up, so we walked up to Sarbury Hill to get a better view. A Spoonbill was out on one of the pools, doing what Spoonbills do best – sleeping. There was also a large gathering of big gulls, with both Great and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, as well as the regular Herring Gulls. The panorama of the coast from here was stunning, looking down over the new pools at Pope’s Marsh.

P1030726Pope’s Marsh – a great view of the new pools from Sarbury Hill

After lunch, we headed out onto the reserve at Cley. There were still lots of Reed Warblers singing from the reeds. The regular, obliging Reed Bunting perched in its usual bush right by the boardwalk, singing.

P1030764Reed Bunting – singing in its favourite bush again today

The main Spoonbill gathering was on Simmond’s Scrape. Nine of them were out on the grass doing guess what? Yes, sleeping! They did wake up at times, shaking their heads, having a quick preen, before resuming their favoured activity. When they did wake, we could see there were both adults and juveniles in the group, the latter with shorter, fleshy-coloured bills, lacking the adults yellow bill-tips. As we scanned, we could see another Spoonbill was asleep on its own down in the longer grass on one of the islands and another, possibly the same bird that we had seen first thing this morning, was still asleep on Pat’s Pool.

IMG_6492Spoonbill – an adult and juvenile both awake

When another adult Spoonbill flew in to join the group, one of the juveniles woke up and immediately set off after it, bobbing it head up and down rhythmically. However, the pursuit seemed a little half-hearted today – perhaps the juvenile had only recently been fed, and the adult got to settle down and go to sleep. Before it did so, we noted that it was colour-ringed. Spoonbills from colonies in places such as France and the Netherlands have been noted along the coast here, but this individual seemed to have lost a lot of its rings, so might be hard to track down.

P1030769Spoonbill – a colour-ringed adult flew in to join the roosting group

There were lots of other birds to look at on the scrapes today as well. Waders have been returning south steadily in the last week or so – autumn is already upon them, as non-breeders and failed breeders leave the breeding grounds early. Consequently, the variety of waders along the coast has already picked up. Four Greenshank were roosting along the bank of one of the islands and a blackish shape asleep on the grass behind was a moulting summer plumage dark male Ruff.

IMG_6498Greenshank & Ruff – some of the returning waders on the scrape

Out on Pat’s Pool, another black wader was feeding. A Spotted Redshank, again in pretty much full summer plumage still. They always look stunning in this plumage – through the scope we could see the white spangling above and the needle-fine bill. We even had it next to a Common Redshank at one point, given a great comparison between the two.

IMG_6534Spotted Redshank – always stunning in summer plumage

There have been several 1st summer Little Gulls along the coast for several weeks now. Today was no exception, with two out on Pat’s Pool. The amount of black hood acquired by 1st summer Little Gulls varies from individual to individual and one of the two today had a nice partial jet black hood.

IMG_6530Little Gull – a 1st summer sporting a partial jet black summer hood

There are also increasing numbers of ducks again along the coast. More Teal in particular have been in evidence again in recent days. In contrast, Shoveler and Gadwall have been around right through so may just be more obvious now as birds gather to moult. Scanning through them, we found the male Garganey that has been out on Pat’s Pool for a couple of days. It is in the process of moulting into eclipse plumage, with a rusty orange face and a partial pale supercilium ghosting the pattern of the spring male.

The Marsh Harriers can normally be relied upon to put on a good show, and today was no exception. One of the females was hunting along the reedy channel out in front of the hide, and kept flying down right towards us giving us great close-up views.

P1030800Marsh Harrier – hunting in front of the hide today

We were just packing up to leave when a group of Black-tailed Godwits flew in over on the other side of Pat’s Pool. A quick look through binoculars and we could see that one of the group looked noticeably larger and longer legged than the rest. We got it in the scope and had a good look at it. Most of the Black-tailed Godwits are Icelandic breeders – of the subspecies islandica. This was a moulting adult Continental Black-tailed Godwit – of the subspecies limosa. Subtly different from the Icelandic birds, it is always an interesting exercise to try to pick out one of the small numbers of limosa which appear at this time of year from amongst the islandica.

We walked round to Bishop Hide to get a closer look and were just in the process of admiring the Continental Black-tailed Godwit when all the waders suddenly took to the air. A Marsh Harrier had drifted over from the reedbed and spooked them. All the Avocets and godwits landed at the back of the scrape and we could see there were now two different moulting male Ruff, including the dark bird we had seen asleep earlier. Individual males differ markedly in the colour of their plumage.

From Bishop Hide we walked round to the East Bank. There are still lots of  Lapwings, Redshank and Avocets out on the pools on the grazing marsh. However, they do a very good job of chasing off anything which comes near them. Further along, we could see another big flock of Black-tailed Godwits roosting in the grass. Yet another moulting male Ruff, this one a different colour again, was feeding unobtrusively along the bank of the Serpentine.

IMG_6609Spoonbill – this adult was feeding on the Serpentine

Also along the Serpentine, we found yet another Spoonbill. However, this one was wide awake and in motion! Preening on the bank at first, it then started feeding out in the water. Spoonbills are amazing to watch in action, sweeping their bills aggressively from side to side through the water. Occasionally they find something and lift their heads up with the prey caught in the bill, before flicking their heads back and swallowing it. We watched this Spoonbill for a while, marvelling at its feeding action – to see some HD video of it, click on the clip below.

There were lots of waders on Arnold’s Marsh today as well, another example of the birds returning. Scanning through the big flock we could see they were mostly Knot, the majority in grey winter plumage (presumably non-breeding 1st summer birds), but a couple still in bright orange summer plumage. With them were a lot of Bar-tailed Godwits and a few Grey Plover, again almost all in grey winter plumage. Several Turnstones were out on one of the shingle islands with one or two in bright summer plumage. A single Ringed Plover was out on the sand. There was also the usual gathering of Sandwich Terns on the islands – we got them in the scope, noting the yellow-tipped black bills and shaggier black crest than the Common Terns.

We had a quick look out to sea – beautiful in the sunshine, but quiet save for a few Sandwich Terns fishing. Then it was time to head back. On our way we could hear several Bearded Tits calling, but they did not put in an appearance this afternoon.

Nightjar Evening

After a break to get something to eat we met again in Holt for the evening. As usual, we went to look for Barn Owls first. We drove round via some regular hunting fields, but there was no sign of any initially. After a couple of warm, dry days and balmy evenings, perhaps they were more relaxed and could afford to come out a little later, despite having hungry mouths to feed?

We walked out onto marshes and fairly quickly picked up our first Barn Owl, out hunting over the grazing marshes. It was rather distant, but it was a start. We could see it patrolling over the grass, looking down intently for voles, occasionally hovering and dropping down, before flying up again a few seconds later, empty-talonned.

At one point one of the local Kestrels, decided to chase after it – presumably a territorial dispute over feeding areas, with both on the lookout for mice and voles. The Kestrel wouldn’t leave it alone, as the Barn Owl attempted simply to get out of its way and carry on hunting. Eventually, as the Kestrel made yet another stoop at it, the Barn Owl turned and the two birds grappled talons and fell to the ground. The Kestrel got up and flew off, but it took a few seconds for the Barn Owl to reappear. When it did, it flew further away and disappeared over the bank.

It was a lovely evening out on the marshes and there were lots of other things to see in the evening light. A Spoonbill flew over, presumably heading in from feeding to roost. We could hear pinging from the reeds and a smart male Bearded Tit flew up and across the path just behind us. It landed in the reedbed the other side and perched up in the tops of the reeds for a few seconds, legs splayed clutching onto the stems. A great view.

Then the Barn Owl activity picked up a gear. Another Barn Owl appeared, much closer than the first. It was patrolling the grassy bank along the edge of the reedbed. It hadn’t been out for long before it started to hover and dropped down out of sight. When it reappeared, we could see it had caught something – we could see it was small and quiet black, possibly a young Moorhen chick. The Barn Owl flew off strongly, back the way it had come.

Then the first Barn Owl flew back across the grazing marsh behind us, again with something in its talons. It flew towards a nearby nest box, but landed on a post nearby first.It sat there for some time, before deciding to fly up to the ledge outside and pass the food in. We got it in the scope and watched it while it did so.

Time was getting on and we had an appointment on the heath, but as we wer got back to the car the second Barn Owl flew back in again.We got a stunning view of it, lit by the evening light, as it came in past the rooftops.

P1030841Barn Owl – flying back in past the rooftops to resume hunting

We hurried up to the Heath to look for Nightjars next. It was already sunset as we arrived and almost immediately, the first Woodcock flew over. The birds are still very actively ‘roding’ over the edge of the trees, the patrolling display flight the males make at dusk in the spring and early summer. There were one or two passing overhead on and off through most of the rest of the evening. We could hear their squeaky calls as they approached and even the very quiet grunting as they came low overhead at times.

A short while after sunset, the first male Nightjar called and started churring briefly. Then he went quiet for a minute or two. Another call and he appeared from the trees, circling round over the edge with wings held aloft, flashing his white wing and tail patches. Fortuitously, he dropped down onto a dead tree stump where we got him in the scope. It was still light enough to get a great look at him.

Then the male Nightjar flew up into oak tree nearby and started churring. We could hear a second male also churring in the background further over across the Heath. We got good views of the first male as he made several display flights out between there and another churring post down in the gorse out of view.

When a third male Nightjar also started up, further over behind us, the first male immediately went over to the other boundary of his territory. We didn’t see him go, but we could hear him start churring over that side in response. We turned to walk over to see if we could see him and a Tawny Owl flew into one of  the trees on that side briefly. Unfortunately, it only landed for a second and was gone again, too quick for all the group to get onto it. Having churred for a few seconds over that side, the first male Nightjar then returned to his favoured tree.

As the light started to fade, we watched him in display flight again, against the sky. He made a sudden change of direction, as a moth flew across in front of him, taking advantage of an easy meal, before disappearing into the gloom of the trees. We decided to call it a night, but we were still serenaded by Nightjars all the way back to the car. A memorable evening.